ALBANY — When the Assembly gavel sounded just after 4 a.m. on March 31, the State Legislature sealed a $168.3 billion New York state budget, completing the job with about 20 hours to spare before the deadline.
With a record level of spending, the financial plan included spending increases on big-ticket items such as schools, Medicaid and transportation. There also were obscure ones such as a wine and culinary center, a maple producers’ initiative and the South Fork Commuter Connection Bus Service in Suffolk County.
But, as with most election years, lawmakers by and large gave up on forcing decisions on controversial issues, choosing to fight next year rather than risk blowback at the polls in the fall. When they did tackle contentious proposals, they often approved a scaled-down version.
Here is a look at highlights, lowlights, odds, ends and last-minute surprises of what’s in and what’s out of New York’s 2018-19 budget:
Cuomo’s keynote approved. With a big asterisk.
In January, Cuomo made his proposed “work around” to the new federal tax law a cornerstone of his State of the State address, which the Democrat called New York’s response to the agenda of Republican President Donald Trump.
First, the governor promised to sue to overturn the new federal tax law — that still hasn’t happened. Then, he proposed replacing state income taxes with a payroll tax. The complicated idea boiled down to having employers pay the tax instead of employees — thereby helping employees avoid a new federal limit on the deductibility of local taxes.
In the end, Cuomo proposed it as a “voluntary” system for companies and governments, removing most of its impact along with any opposition from legislators. Analysts have suggested the likely participants will be smallish companies with high-earners — think law firms and doctors’ groups.
A related proposal that would allow homeowners to pay into educational “charitable” funds to pay for schools in lieu of paying school taxes also gained approval. But the IRS is reviewing the legality of such schemes.
No increased oversight despite scandals and trials.
The governor’s former closest aide, Joseph Percoco, was convicted last month in a bribery scheme. The governor’s high-profile upstate development projects will be the focus of another corruption trial this spring. And the former leaders of the Assembly and Senate also go on trial.
Yet lawmakers shrugged. There would be no increased oversight of spending and no new restrictions on officials’ outside income or influence peddling by ex-officials.
National and divisive issues shelved.
Calls to ban gun “bump stocks,” increase the waiting period before approving gun purchases, extend the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits regarding long-ago sexual abuse, end cash bail for certain crimes, toughen anti-gang laws, allow “early” voting and make the property-tax cap permanent all failed.
Republicans didn’t block all new taxes.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) vowed the GOP would block the $1 billion in new taxes and fees Cuomo proposed. Republicans did thwart an internet sales tax and a number of small tax increases. But they agreed to a new tax on opioid prescriptions and to a Cuomo plan that will allow the state to pocket $2 billion in exchange for allowing a nonprofit health insurer to convert to for-profit status.
A Cuomo panel in January unveiled a broad plan to charge cars $11 and trucks $25 for entering the most congested parts of Manhattan as a way to generate funds for the troubled subway system and reduce traffic. For this year, lawmakers settled on the smallest of its recommendations, a $2.75 surcharge on taxi and car-service rides below 96th Street, which Cuomo called a “first step.”
Cuomo vs. de Blasio. Again.
In the latest installment of the bitter Democratic feud, the governor flexed his budget powers over New York Mayor Bill de Blasio again. The budget forces the city to pay $400 million toward mass transit and $50 million for a new park, and broadens state oversight of city schools and housing programs. And there’s the Penn Station surprise.
Cuomo successfully inserted a provision that gives the state — not the city — rights to develop an area around Penn Station. After an outcry by city officials and state legislators from Manhattan, the plan was modified, but the state still has control.
Cuomo also carried a proposal favored by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran that would’ve revamped property-assessment challenges and dictate that no refunds would be made if assessments were less than 5 percent above value, officials said. Saying they were caught off guard, some state legislators blocked the proposal.
A similar 11th-hour plea also failed: Lawmakers refused to bail out out a Rochester-area casino that said it is already 40 percent below revenue projections one year after opening.
And in an unexpected twist, the last item holding up the budget was a request by Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) to reduce state oversight of private Jewish schools known as yeshivas. Assembly members complained that “99 percent” of the issues had been resolved while Felder held out. But he has considerable sway — though a Democrat, he votes with Republicans in the Senate, giving them control of 32 of 63 seats.
Felder got part of what he wanted: While easing some curriculum requirements, the budget also gave the state education commissioner curriculum oversight power.
How high-profile issues fared in the recently approved $168.3 billion New York State budget:
Payroll tax to work around new federal tax law: Approved. But purely optional, so impact likely minimal.
Opioid tax. Approved. But majority of funds won’t go directly to treatment.
Sexual harassment. Approved. Bans taxpayer-funded settlements for cases involving government officials.
Child Victims Act. Omitted. Would have extended statute of limitations for lawsuits involving child-abuse claims.
Congestion pricing. Omitted. Modest “first step” approved to add fee for taxi, ride services in Manhattan below 96th St.
Bail reforms. Omitted. Would’ve ended cash bail for certain criminal charges.
Internet sales tax. Omitted.
Small wireless “5G” expansion. Would’ve superimposed state structure over local authorities for citing the latest cell-generation facilities.
Gov. Cuomo takeover of Penn Station-area development. Approved.
Oversight of Gov. Cuomo’s economic development programs. Omitted.
Early voting. Omitted.